Epilepsy is a recurrent seizure disorder. There are 2 types of epilepsy :
Primary epilepsy, also called Idiopatic or hereditary epilepsy is defined as dog having seizures without a known cause. This does not mean there is no cause, there could be but it cannot be found. In many cases however, despite intensive investigation, no cause is found. In some breeds it has already been proven that this type of epilepsy is hereditary, like for example in the Border Collie. In Greater swiss mountain dogs this is unfortunately not yet the case. Researchers at the university of Helsinki in Finland and in Missouri in the US are working on finding the genes that cause epilepsy and on how it is inherited.
Secondary epilepsy, also called symptomatic epilepsy, is defined as a seizure disorder caused by another underlying health problem like for example diabetes, thyroid dysfunction or a brain tumor. If the underlying health problem is treated, the seizures will stop. This type of epilepsy is not hereditary. That is why it is important, if your dog has had a seizure, that a thorough health check is done to exclude underlying issues.
Epilepsy is a serious disease as there is no cure if it concerns primary epilepsy. Swissies, as most large breeds, are difficult to control with medication, meaning that the several types of medication that are on the market to keep the seizures at bay, do not always work for swissies. We know, because unfortunately we have experience with this. We have a personal story to share concerning epilepsy.
Our sweet Barrat van de Zuiderwaard, our 3rd swissy, started having seizures at 18 months of age. We didn’t know much about epilepsy and we bought Barrat from a very renowned breeder. We thought he fainted, as he just fell on his side, didn’t move, but he lost some urine. This was a very light seizure. Seizures come in different forms, from partial seizures to so called grand mal seizures where the dog is unconscious and his whole body is part of the seizure. Unfortunately in our case, 3 weeks later he had another seizure, stronger this time. And two weeks later again, one week later a another one and then the next day another one. We ofcourse went to the veterinarian who told us in the beginning that with one month in between seizures we did not have to use medication. When we returned with this pattern, Barrat was put on phenobarbital immediately and we went to see a specialist to rule out any secondary cause. Barrat was a beautiful male, inside and outside, and we had plans of breeding with him. All shows that he went to he received an excellent, which is the highest mark you can get, and he even became show winner of the breed at the amsterdam Winner. We realized that that dream was not going to come true.
You cannot breed an epileptic dog !!
Very soon after that we had another dream, and that was to make sure that we found a way to get his seizures under control. We very soon found out that Barrat had a problem with pesticides, due to a mistake of our own. We had neglected our natural garden and decided that for once we would use pesticides to get rid of the weed. We kept Barrat inside the house and only allowed him outside again the next day. That evening he had 12 seizures in a row. Soon we realized that pesticides were used everywhere. Our local government used them in the park where we did walk him. Downside was that we only knew when it was too late, we saw the weeds dying ( becoming yellow) and realized they must have been sprayed the week before. Barrat often also had had seizures the week before.
Being nature loving people we did not use pesticides, but we even became more strict. Every package of anything we bought was checked and we were shocked when we realized that pesticides are everywhere. Did you ever look at the package of dish washer tablets ? Pure poison. Sometimes we saw the link with pesticides but very often we had no idea what caused the seizure. Examination at the specialist didn’t show any health problem, so we had to focus on finding the correct medicine for him. Then our worst nightmare came true…out of the blue Barrat started seizing on our terrace in august. Trained as we were at that time we got out valium to get him out of the seizure and administered that. No effect. Another dose ..and no effect. We realized that this was bad…it was a very hot day and the danger with seizures is to become overheated and we started cooling Barrat, giving him another dose of valium, again without effect. We prepared ourselves to go to the vet as this was a status epilepticus, the most dangerous type of seizure a dog can have. Barrat ended up in the ER where he continued to seize for one full week. Only after loads of valium he stopped seizing. When he came back home he had completely lost his memory. No command was recognized and he was bumping into anything. It was devastating.
His medication was upped, but only 3 weeks later he had another seizure. After many experiments we seemed to have found something that worked, a certain combination of phenobarbital and potassium bromide kept Barrat 6 months seizure free and we were so happy. At the same time several other swissies tried that same combination and are seizure free still today, which is over 2 years as I write this story. This delightful period only lasted until the day that I was working in the garden with Barrat at my side, and I did not notice that one of the farmers was spraying his crops. He later told me that this was the lightest form of pesticides available for farmers. Barrat started seizing that evening and it didn’t stop. He had 30 seizures in 3 weeks, and this ended with another status epilepticus. Again he was rushed to ER and whatever they tried, they could not get him out. Barrat died at the age of 3.
For us, this was such a horrible experience, effecting our lives in such an extreme bad way, that we continued to read about it. Any breeder that deliberately breeds affected dogs should be prosecuted. The effect on your life is beyond words, not to mention the pain you eperience having to lose the dog you love so much in such a way and not being more than a puppy. It is unbelievable if anybody breeds with dogs that they know are effected and sells puppies of which they know chances are big that they might develop epilepsy to people who have no idea.
I know we cannot exclude epilepsy, as we do not know yet how it is passed on and why a dog has seizures. But what we do know that it is in the genes, this has already been confirmed in other breeds, it is passed on and that you therefore should not breed affected dogs to start with and that you should exclude parents that produced epilepsy in a litter. Responsible breeding.
Honesty and openness is the only thing that can help us to make good decisions when it comes to breeding.
We hope that people who read this will help us to protect this beautiful breed by being open and honest !